Notebook, 10 May 2011: Politics As Usual . . .

(h/t to Laura Rozen aka The Cable, blogging at Foreign Policy)

This one makes my bullshit antennae twitch, or is our first salvo in a post-bin Laden world of our efforts to eradicate Islamic terror and isolate Iran (yes, Iran).

Or it is just more of the pure power politics of the same stripe which cost Yemen $73 million in US aid when it failed to vote for Desert Storm in 1991, after which the American ambassador famously said to his colleague from Yemen, “That was the most expensive vote you will have cast.”

Laura Rozen reports that a letter signed by 29 Democratic Senators, has been sent to the White House demanding that US cease sending aid to the new Palestinian unity government:

What combination of motivation prompts this action should be fairly clear, but the failure to recognize the positive achievements implicit in the Hamas/Fatah accord: demonstrating a peaceful resolution of conflict, the recognition of a national identity over the factional division, a demonstrated success in negotiation and a willingness to take the diplomatic route of general recognition and applying for membership in the UN underscores the fact that it seems apparent that for these democratic senators, Israel’s strength through Arab disunity remains a primary goal of US and Israeli policy. Also demonstrated here is the willful blindness to Palestinian grievances and to greater political currents throughout the Muslim world, as well as the perceived imposition of Western demands on Muslim nations. Our failures in US foreign policy in the region are legion, and it looks like we are on the brink of yet another. After all, when it comes to governments which sponsor terrorism, we somehow find it in us to sufficiently nuance our reasoning in the case of Pakistan even though:

In June 2010 the ISI was accused of giving funding, training and sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban on a scale much larger than previously thought.

The paper published by the London School of Economics said that Taliban field commanders suggested that ISI intelligence agents even attend Taliban supreme council meetings – and that support for the militants was “official ISI policy”.

(Source)

Somehow, we’re able to recognize the benefits of continuing to deal with Pakistan (whose aid from the US will certainly continue) but not those in dealing with Hamas:

“It’s not a time to back away from Pakistan: It’s time for more engagement with them, not less,” Boehner told reporters. “Frankly, I believe our aid should continue to Pakistan.”

(Source)

As for the question of Palestinian membership in the UN, which some poses some considerable problems for Israel:

“We are facing a diplomatic-political tsunami that the majority of the public is unaware of and that will peak in September . . . . It is a very dangerous situation, one that requires action . . . . Paralysis, rhetoric, inaction will deepen the isolation of Israel.”

(Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak at a conference in Tel Aviv in March.)

it could also present a significant opportunity.

If the question of Palestine’s membership in the UN comes before the General Assembly, it is quite like to succeed, as 106 nations already recognize the sovereign state of Palestine:

Countries who recognize a Palestinian state

and the US will reach yet another crossroad when this measure is brought up, as a vote in the General Assembly is subject to approval by the Security Council, as specified in Article 4 of the UN Charter:

Article 4

  1. Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.
  2. The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

A US veto in the Security Council of the motion is probably a foregone conclusion, reinforcing the widely held notion throughout the Muslim world that the US is the world’s major obstacle to Islamic national aspirations. American policy as expressed in the cessation of aid to the Palestinians (while Israel remains the biggest recipient of US aid), our actions in the Security Council regarding the motion to recommend to the General Assembly for a Palestinian state membership come September, our history regarding I/P resolutions brought before the Security Council, our history of behaving as Israel’s lawyer in I/P talks and now three wars on Islamic countries and lets be serious, how can we expect anyone to buy our excuses? How can we expect Hamas to take our demands to renounce violence seriously as Nato and US military operations continue and when we appear eager to renegotiate the SOFA agreement with Iraq? (Another instance of an ongoing effort noted by me a year ago.)

Say what you like about Osama bin Laden, “simple, modest man and a strong believer,” but his fame rested on his courage in standing up to the West, intact and unyielding until the day he died. As the US continues to oppose Islam (and let’s face it, we have now demonstrated how willing we are to employ our military against Muslims while force never becomes a consideration in humanitarian atrocities like that, for example, which took place in Sri Lanka), we are simply going to reinforce his heroic status.

From Jordan:

The majority of Arabs and Muslims who love bin Laden like who they like and reject who they reject not because of anything to do with al-Qaida but because they love a fighter. [Such is the case with bin Laden and many others.] This is the same way that they loved Saddam Hussein yet almost entirely rejected the Baath Party. They love even a non-Arab like Ernesto “Che” Guevara because he is a fighter for the cause of freedom — not because they have any interest in his ideology! The Arabs love an underdog, and these days that means anyone who stands in the face of America and Israel [which sometimes means even Americans and Israelis!]

(Source)

and

Osama bin Laden will continue to be controversial. His admirers agree with him and his opponents disagree with him, but everyone at least agrees that, all his life, he had a fierce fire and that he died carrying a weapon. He fell to a legendary Apache helicopter; nothing else could have done it.

Osama bin Laden was a man who reached the status of a legend, as he was the wealthy son of a billionaire who left the good life for his convictions and left palaces to live in caves. He plundered the minds of tens of thousands of young people and was able to spread terror in the capitals of the world. A short speech from him would mobilize intelligence networks all over the world.

(Source)

This dissent from Saudi Arabia:

One person on giving his reaction to the news said, “In my personal opinion, Bin Laden was an evil-minded person who, by his ill-advised terrorist acts, brought shame and dishonor to entire Muslims. He tarnished the image of our great religion Islam which teaches peace and coexistence. He and his associates, by their terrorist acts, did not serve any purpose except that they provided the golden opportunity to everybody to unjustly target Muslims, Islam and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”

Another added, “Muslims in general are peace-loving and Islam is a peaceful religion. However, only because of him and his associates, the Muslims of all nationalities suffered in many ways, including suspicion, mistrust and even humiliation, in the Western countries, especially in the United States. The Muslim students, travelers and even the Muslim nationals suffered in these Western countries because of his actions.”

(Source)

begs the question whether al Qaeda’s supporters were right or not. After all, if the “suspicion, mistrust and humiliation” coming from Western countries continues even after he’s gone (think Terry Jones), then it demonstrates that, well, bin Laden had a point even if his methods were unsound.

I wonder if the same lionization will happen to Moammar Gadhafi. After all, no other Arab leader has remained so steadfastly outspoken against the Western powers.

Our celebration over the death of bin Laden may therefore have been premature as the answer to this question and bin Laden’s future cultural status is to a certain degree contingent on our own actions. We can continue to make war on Muslim nations; we can continue to threaten to take real actions against Muslims by ceasing aid to some who really need it while making deals with dictators in the Gulf states; we can stand in the way of Palestinian membership in the United Nations or we can recognize that Muslims, just like anyone else (including Israel) have legitimate political and national aspirations.

We can’t just say it, we have to do it, a message these senators (and Palestinians and Bibi) have yet to internalize. Or else one wonders why Palestinians must first concede to US demands, or that for them, in their political context, this is even possible. On the other hand, one wonders what a little good will might do right now. Certainly Palestinians are demonstrating no military or diplomatic measures (including rocket attacks on Israel) that the “great” powers, especially lately, do not choose as legitimate measures in our own international relations. To think otherwise denies the existence of Palestinian grievances, or in our case, a strict adherence to international power politics, because we find them expedient.

Of course, the political machinery will just be coming up to speed for the 2012 elections this September, with all sides coming to the big donors with their hands out. We cannot therefore expect this administration to exhibit a political courage so conspicuously absent in its first three years. Especially with a President still pushing a unity agenda here and a Secretary of State from a family famous for triangulation, though I don’t see how anyone can put the spin on this one.

I intend to remain seized of the matter.


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